Monday, April 22, 2019


Nine days to go in April 2019, and at least Robert Mueller hit a triple. (That last base is up to those who need to undrink the Kool-Aid.) In the fervid world of baseball, however, the "base" has taken over: we've even seen so-called analysts such as Eno Sarris and Matthew Baggerly don pom-poms and suggest that the Giants recalibrate their ballpark so it, too, can be a home run palace.

And to think that just last year some of these fine feathered folks who write for the increasingly embedded shrines of empty-headed analysis were decrying the aesthetics of a two-dimensional game. This year, however, as homers fly out of ballparks at a record rate, they seem to be as giddy and shell-shocked as that uncomfortably large plurality of Americans whose attention spans and senses of history are so attenuated that they can barely process the slow train coming for the carcass of the Orange Menace. 

Let's all be home run thugs together, they chant, suggesting that the inexorable pull of isolated power that is now reaching an historical extreme is now to be swallowed whole just as the escalating thuggery of politics is the "new normal." 

After all, if Jose Altuve can "stand and crank" (as Brock Hanke used to call those players who did little but swing for the fences whenever they occupied the batter's box) then it should be a universal law as iron-clad as the historical eschatology of G.W. Hegel (a philosopher whose interest in power was in no way isolated).

And it would thus seem to be, as the "barrel" frippery of sabermetric Anti-Christ Tom (Love Pie) Tango and the ergonomic eugenics of Ben "Frankenstein" Lindbergh take us into a world where athletics and elitism are blood brothers. The "proof" is in the rising HR/G rate thus far this April, and we are to bow down to the stone tablets of this new reality.

However, let's toss out an operating phrase that's parcel and part of Big Bad Baseball lore: not so effin' fast. Could there be a counter-pattern hidden in the data somewhere that belies at least part of this hegemonic hoo-hah that's turning the game into a raging staph infection? Might things not be as monolithic as they first appear?

Yes, folks, there is a glimmer of good news, and it's in the table at right. It's a breakout of HRs by ballpark that shows you the HR/G rates thus far in 2019, along with projected totals for the year--and compares those numbers to what occurred in the previous two seasons. There is a very intriguing sub-pattern here that bears scrutiny, one that just might be the beginnings of a "cure" for baseball's rash of home runs.

The current homer surge this month is being spearheaded by events in ten major league ballparks where the long ball is currently out of control. One of these parks--Camden Yards--has always been a homer haven, and right now things are beyond ridiculous there: their current pace of 2.6 homers/game would go beyond shattering the current record for most HRs hit in a ballpark (271 in Coors Field in 1997). Similarly outrageous numbers can be found in Miller Field and Citi Park (though the latter is currently by far the smallest sample size).

Right now six ballparks project to break the Coors Field record for HRs. These ten parks would have an average of 300 HRs each.

But the other 20 parks are not joining in with this HR madness. They are, for the most part, going the other way. They actually project to hit less HRs per park in 2019 than they did in 2018, and about 30 HRs less per park than in the "kaboom year" of 2017.

We averaged the three-year numbers for all the parks, and while HRs would go up again from 2018, the projection according to that average brings us in a bit under the 2017 numbers.

While we won't be surprised if Camden Yards does set a record for most HRs in a ballpark this year--a grotesque coupling of congenial ballpark and an execrable home team pitching staff--we expect that the current glut of HRs in these ten parks will dissipate. They may even hit enough homers at the Giants' Oracle Park to placate Sarris and Baggerly, the panting bandwagoneers who think that hitting homers is the only way to win. (The Giants, hitting just five homers in ten games at home this season, are 5-5 there--low run scoring environments actually encourage better relative home won-loss records...but don't tell those two post-neo nabobs of Homeric hoo-hah.)

We actually need more parks like Oracle Field, but the chances of that happening remain slim at best. What baseball still has to watch out for is a definitive counter-movement that neutralizes "launch angle" that, if implementable across all of the game, would put us at 1968 batting levels. If the current "Lords" are worried about attendance (possibly not, given how they're drowning in television money..) they might want to consider what will happen if baseball gets to the point where it is both low scoring and scores more than half its runs via homers. At that point the folks who natter on about the game being terminally boring will actually be right. 

We'll follow up on this table a bit later in the year and let you know which way the wind is blowing.